Chapter Seven
James is a lucky man, Maggie thought. He’d stopped at a beachfront park, a location too public for Sir Pup to do anything more than lie in the sand a hundred yards away and stare at him.
Maggie parked and turned to Blake. “You can see him?”
“At one of the tables. He looks to be on the phone.” He held up his hands, moved his thumbs. “Not talking. Texting.”
And she would have to cross an open expanse to reach him. After a quick check of her gun, she said, “You’ll stay with Sir Pup while I talk to him.”
“Not a chance.”
She knew he’d say that. “He won’t talk with you there.”
“We don’t need him to talk. Just to point out the house.”
“Geoff, I need you to trust me.” And to be out of James’s line of fire. She couldn’t trust James, not until she knew what his role was.
And even then, it would be difficult.
A muscle in his jaw twitched. “This isn’t about trusting you, Maggie.”
“No. You’re angry on behalf of your sister, so it’s about you wanting to break your fist on his face.” She touched his hand, the tight, white-knuckled clench. “We can’t charge blindly into the house. We can’t take that risk.”
The fingers beneath hers loosened slightly.
“You can start punching after we get her out.”
He released a heavy breath and nodded. “All right, then.”
The relief that swept through her was too strong, she thought as she spotted James at the table. Relief like that came from caring.
And she wasn’t going to be careless with Geoff.
She knew the moment James spotted her. The expression on his boy-next-door face didn’t change, but beneath the table, his booted feet shifted slightly wider. Getting ready to dive to one side or the other.
She didn’t sit on the bench and offer an easy gut shot below the table. She leaned her hip against the tabletop instead, her arms casually folded beneath her breasts, her right hand on her weapon and concealed by her jacket.
“This can be easy,” she said. “But it’s up to you.”
He laid the phone down and placed both hands flat on the table. “I’ll make it easy.” With his chin, he gestured at the phone. “I sent you another message. You found me faster than I thought you would.”
And she’d never tell him how. “My employer has interesting friends.” Let him wonder about that. Wonder and worry. “And yours is a demon.”
“He used to be yours, too, Maggie.” He leaned back slightly, looking up at her face. “The demon is Langan.”
Their handler—her superior—at the CIA. The one who’d given her James’s kill order. She didn’t allow her surprise to show. And wondered if he was lying, just to make her stumble.
But it was possible. If Langan had been a demon, he couldn’t have killed James; giving Maggie the kill order would’ve been the only way to get rid of him without breaking the Rules. And Maggie didn’t know Langan’s current status . . . but she would have Savi check into it the moment the vampire came out of her daysleep.
“Langan,” she repeated flatly. “And what does he have on you?”
“A bargain. I help him find what he needs, and he doesn’t tell the agency that I’m alive . . . and that you faked the kill.”
A demon or vampire could have heard the pounding of her heart, might have sensed the fear that spiked through her. A human couldn’t. Her smile was thin. “I could make it real now.” She waited a beat. “That kill order was bogus. You know it, and if the agency looked close enough, they’d know it, too. Even if they dragged us back, we’d get the equivalent of a slap before they started hunting for Langan. So what else does he have that would make you stupid enough to bargain with him?”
Sweat beaded above his upper lip. “I took an assignment. A leadership change.”
A political assassination. “So?”
“I couldn’t complete it. I took the shot, but couldn’t complete the assignment. So I disengaged and reported to Langan. Reported everything.”
Maggie frowned. Failure wasn’t reason to—
Ice slid through her veins. “Couldn’t? Because he healed? Because bullets couldn’t kill him?”
“Maggie . . .”
“A vampire or a demon?”
He blinked. Was going to lie. But she knew, didn’t she?
A political assassination.
“Stafford,” she breathed. And James hadn’t known Stafford was a demon. An American citizen, on American soil. Oh, God. She had made a mistake. She should have followed through on that order. “What was in it for you?”
“A promotion, and a desk.”
Disgust poured through her. She didn’t attempt to conceal her reaction.
James sat back. “Goddammit, Maggie. I was tired of seeing my—our—friends shot in the field. Tired of seeing them killed. And it was a demon.”
One that Maggie would have killed herself, if she could have. But James hadn’t known Stafford had been a demon until after he’d tried to kill him.
Not that it mattered now. Katherine did.
Maggie swallowed, forced herself to relax.
“A demon, yes. Okay. And another demon has you in this bargain now.” And if James didn’t fulfill it, his soul would be trapped in Hell. Which was, she thought grimly, enough incentive to make James do almost anything. “You just have to help him, is that right? You don’t have to actually give him whatever it is he’s looking for?”
“Right.” Almost tiredly, James nodded. “Just help. But he decides what ‘helping’ is.”
“Then we’ll make it simple. I’ll go after Katherine when you aren’t there, so that you don’t have to help him stop me. Like now.”
His lashes flickered. “I’m due back in a few minutes. If I stay much longer, he’ll be suspicious, and ready for you. This evening, I’m supposed to pretend to argue with him, leave the house angry and stay away for several hours. I’ll contact you then, and give you the address.”
Maggie straightened. “All right. Tonight.”
She waited at the picnic table until she saw the Land Rover pull out of the parking lot. The ocean seemed louder than it should have, filling her head with noise. The sand was deep and soft. Her feet were hot inside her boots and her body bathed in a light film of sweat by the time she made it to Geoff’s side.
Geoff was cold, pale with anger, his voice ice. “What the bloody hell was that?”
A small directional microphone lay in his lap—no doubt from Sir Pup and the supply of equipment in his hammerspace.
Well, that made everything easier. She wouldn’t have to repeat her entire conversation with James; she’d just have to explain it.
Geoff stood. “You let James go. Might as well have told him to tell the demon we were coming.”
No, he wasn’t cold. He was close, and he was pissed, and she could feel the heat coming off him as well as she could the sun. Sweat trickled down her back, between her breasts.
Maggie glanced at Sir Pup. “Follow him. Detain him gently. But don’t let the demon see you.”
White still edged Geoff’s mouth, but color was returning to the rest of his face. A breeze pushed at his dark hair and cooled the back of her neck. “What was that, Maggie?”
“He’s bound to help the demon. I won’t force him to break his bargain and damn him to Hell.” She had a feeling James was doing a good job of getting there on his own. “But if he’s heading back to tell the demon—to help the demon—and Sir Pup prevents him from getting there . . .”
“He doesn’t break it.”
She turned toward the parking lot. Geoff caught her arm. “And the rest?”
Langan, Stafford. Kill orders that Langan must have known would never be completed. And the certainty that she had narrowly escaped the trap James was ensnarled in now.
“I . . . can’t,” she said. “I can’t think of it now. It’s too much, it’s too big. Maybe after we get Katherine.” She closed her eyes. “And for just one moment I need to . . . this.”
She leaned in, buried her face in his throat. Tension held Geoff stiff for a second before his arms slid around her.
“I’m tired,” she admitted, and let herself rest against him. Not physical exhaustion. Emotional. As if she’d been slowly wrung out since receiving that e-mail. “I haven’t been this tired since I left the agency.”
His voice was a soothing rumble against her cheek. “We’ll be finished soon.”
“Yes.” She stepped back. Her hand drifted down his arm until her fingers linked with his. Then she let her hand drop back to her side. “We need to go.”